A day in the life of a company officer: Focus on 3 core values

Outlining the primary and measurable objectives of company-level leadership


Vince Bettinazzi and Adam Oleszkowicz will present “A Day in the Life” at the IAFC’s ReIGNITE conference on Oct. 20, 2020. Learn more and register here.

By Vincent Bettinazzi

What does a company officer provide the organization, its members and the public daily? Are the expectations clearly defined, or more importantly, has the leader been vetted and trained to competently convey the wide variety of leadership components?

Often times, passing the assessment and obtaining the promotion is the easiest part of the transition. Ideally, there would be someone to help guide you through the early part of your officer career – someone to provide advice and talk to you about relevant life experience in order to point you in the right direction.

As a company officer, the members you are fortunate to lead expect you to know your job, and to expertly handle the challenges associated with company-level leadership.(Photo/Courtesy of Bettinazzi)
As a company officer, the members you are fortunate to lead expect you to know your job, and to expertly handle the challenges associated with company-level leadership.(Photo/Courtesy of Bettinazzi)

So much of our job is based upon experience. The people before us have hopefully discovered the “best” way of doing things. In the technical facets of our jobs, these things are very objective. The nozzle does this, the search starts here, the cribbing will go there, etc. However, when it comes to leading people, there is not a clear-cut way of doing it. Regardless, the members you are fortunate to lead expect you to know your job, and to expertly handle the challenges associated with company-level leadership.

With that in mind, following is some advice on three core values of company leadership.

1. Company communication

The most critical aspect of leadership at all levels is communication. We aren’t only talking about giving information, but stressing the importance of genuine, open communication with you and your crew. Nearly everything you do at the company level requires conversation and direction. Most of the other core values – setting expectations, dealing with personalities, building relationships, counseling and company-level training – depend on effective communication. If you are a company-level leader who is communicating more through email than talking, I challenge that you are not communicating as effectively as possible.

Yes, uncomfortable conversations are a job requirement. The more that you find and make time for your people, the easier this part will become. Genuine conversations create trust, which in turn builds accountability and gains commitment from your team.

[Read next: From meaningful to mundane: The importance of firefighter conversations]

2. Documentation details

Connected closely to communication is the art of documentation.

When you are in charge, you need to write things down and keep records. Hopefully, you are familiar with your department’s procedures for documenting occurrences. Your organization likely has a policy and a form for the routine things, like the “fire engine backs into the bay, without a spotter, and runs over a flashlight” example. Situations like these will result in an expected trail of paperwork that is established by your administration.

My advice, if you are unfamiliar or have questions with the process, ask someone. Find someone who has done this before, and ask them to look it over. Another idea: Include the responsible party in the documentation process in order to use this as a teachable moment.

If you are responsible for checking incident reports, or are the sole writer, be thorough and precise. Take the time to complete the report. The time that it took for you to add two or three extra sentences in the narrative will pay off if that incident report is ever referenced in the future. Keep in mind: The number of lawyers, insurance representatives, and average citizens who call your fire administration looking for incident reports would probably surprise you.

The training ground is the place to fail, learn and perfect our technical skills. (Photo/Courtesy of Vince Bettinazzi)
The training ground is the place to fail, learn and perfect our technical skills. (Photo/Courtesy of Vince Bettinazzi)

3. Training time

Training is a critical component of the company officer experience. In fact, it is mission-critical.

It’s easy to spot a highly trained company operating on an incident scene. Those outcomes are often dependent on the capabilities of the company and its leader. Your department’s delivery of service correlates directly to company-level training. The process requires the leader and the unit to engage each other in conversation. It is the ultimate team-builder.

The training ground is the place to fail, learn and perfect our technical skills. Company-level training instills confidence in your members. Include your team in the selection and delivery of training when permitted. This creates a sense of buy-in when others are able to have ownership in the process of building up the company’s skill level. Bottom line: It is your responsibility as a company officer to ensure that your team is prepared and are trained.

[Learn more: Training time: A company officer’s guide for avoiding risk]

About the Author

Vincent Bettinazzi is a battalion chief with the Myrtle Beach (South Carolina) Fire Department, where he has served since 2007. He is a certified USLA Lifeguard on the MBFD’s Ocean Rescue Team. He completed the NFA’s Managing Officer Program in April 2016, with his capstone project focused on ocean rescue response and resources. 

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